Joelle Thomson's online wine guide

Category: Cabernet Sauvignon (page 1 of 2)

Craggy’s new top shelf reds launch…

It was frosty, clear, cold and intense start to the week at Craggy Range in Hawke’s Bay, but in the upstairs wine lab at Craggy Range, the following trio of reds shined a warmer light on the third strong New Zealand vintage in a row – 2015. Like all top shelf reds, this trio have been mellowing in barrel prior to their official release onto shop shelves and into our glasses this week.

Craggy’s top trio of 2015 reds

Craggy Range’s new Prestige Collection reds launched in June this year and represents the third consecutive strong vintage in a row, says winemaker Matt Stafford, who says yields were down 50% for 2015 Craggy Range Aroha Te Muna Pinot Noir and also, to a lesser extent, for 2015 Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah, due to a cool start to vintage but a warm dry summer resulted in these beauties.

New Craggy Sophia

 2015 Craggy Range Sophia $115

Three grapes vie for attention in this top new red – made from 73% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Cabernet Franc, all contributing body and fruit weight. The soft richness comes from the hefty Merlot component while the two Cabernets provide dark fruity notes.

The 2015 Craggy Range Sophia was aged for 19 months in French oak (45% new).

It drinks… well right now but will further age for 9 to 10 years; possibly longer.


New Le Sol Syrah

2015 Craggy Range Le Sol $135

A cool spring provided plenty of nervous anticipation to the Craggy Range wine team but a warm dry spell in mid to late January saw temperatures rise over 30 degrees Celcius and the result is this lovely wine that’s intense in every way from its deep purple colour to its full body, high but balanced tannins and acidity and its long, smooth finish.

The 2015 Le Sol was aged for 17 months in French oak (30% new oak).

It drinks… well right now and has strong aging potential for 9 to 10 years +.


New Pinot

2015 Craggy Range Aroha Pinot Noir $135

First made in 2006 and produced every year since, with the exception of 2010, this Martinborough Pinot Noir is made 100% from grapes grown in the Te Muna area; 9 kilometres west of the township. A higher proportion of whole bunches are used than in the past – now 50%, which add what Stafford describes as a spicy note. And there has also been a significant reduction in the use of new oak (now at 30%).

The 2015 Aroha was aged for 9 months in French oak (30% new).

It drinks… well now with smooth full body, and can age for 9-10 years.


These wines are in store now at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington where I spend a portion of my week working on tastings and all manner of other fascinating, tasty wine related things.

Vintage tales at Church Road…

The launch of Church Road’s flagship wines has become something of a decadent fixture on the calendar of New Zealand’s wine writers.

It’s not just the latest top tier ‘Tom’ wines that we get to taste, but a snapshot of New Zealand wine history in Hawke’s Bay. Older vintages of Tom are unscrewed (the Chardonnay) and uncorked (the Merlot Cabernet blend and the Syrah). This year we were given a major treat – three of the earliest varietal table wines ever made in New Zealand by the late, eponymous Tom McDonald himself.

Wines from the 1950s, 1967 and 1977 were all uncorked and were in surprisingly fine fettle. They were branded 1967 McWilliam’s Private Bin Cabernet Sauvignon, 1977 McWilliam’s Cabernet Sauvignon and McDonald’s Cabernet Sauvignon (with no vintage but from a section of the winery’s cellar that was devoted to 1950s bottles). All three of the older wines were recorked 15 years ago, which helps to account for the good nick they were in, but really, it was staggering to see these wines expressing their raw material.

The best, for me, was the 1967, but I am slightly biased because that’s my birth year and the privilege of drinking something that’s 50 years old, made by one of New Zealand’s most important wine pioneers and that still tastes of the grape it was made from was… well, let’s just say, it was a good night. The 1967 McWilliam’s Private Bin Cabernet Sauvignon was a touch musty when first poured but was otherwise clean with pronounced flavours of black olive, green capsicum and rosemary; that dried herb, hot dusty road and black olive character that epitomises great old Cabernets. What a treat.

This year marks another milestone too – 120 years since the Church Road Winery was founded by Bartholomew Steinmetz as Taradale Vineyards with five acres of land (purchased for one hundred pounds per acre, back then). The now famous Tom McDonald began working at the winery when he was 14 years old and was left in charge of the winery for the first time when he was 19 years old, while Steinmetz travelled back to Luxembourg. McDonald then bought the winery outright when he was 29 and went on to produce varietal Cabernet Sauvignon in an age and stage when New Zealand wine was mostly made from hybrid grapes with added sugar and alcohol as fortified wine.

McDonald’s legacy is often talked about but it’s not until you actually taste those older wines that the big picture suddenly comes into clear view. He was a man way ahead of his time, so it seems fitting that one of this country’s icon wine brands is named after him.

The event that launched the 2014 Church Road Tom wines this year paid homage to the man himself, but also looked forward, with winemaker Chris Scott showing that the future of this winery is firmly in the Bay.

This year, the winery has doubled its capacity so that 100% of its grapes are now processed at the winery rather than a portion of them being transported down to Brancott Estate in Marlborough; where many tanks were destroyed in last year’s Kaikoura earthquakes. This is good news for Church Road, even if it means more work for the winemaking team. It reduces paperwork and allows them to focus instead on processing their grapes as soon as they have been harvested – rather than the grapes having to journey south. It allows greater quality control because the entire journey from grapes to wine takes place at one location.

Scott began at the winery in 2005 as a cellar hand when studying winemaking and viticulture at the Eastern Institute of Technology. When he graduated, he was offered a permanent role at the winery and has since graduated up the ranks to chief winemaker. It sometimes seems like lofty title for a man who is a self declared hedonist and is clearly so passionate about his job. But taste the wines he makes and all of a sudden the word ‘chief’ takes on a whole new meaning.

The 2014 Tom tasting

Closures… A screw cap is used for Tom Chardonnay and the two reds are sealed with natural cork with a wax seal over the top.

Drink it… Chardonnay

Three vintages of Tom Chardonnay were tasted from 2010, 2013 and 2014 – the latest.

2014 Tom Chardonnay

Winemaker Chris Scott’s preferred vineyard for Chardonnay in Hawke’s Bay is the Tuki Tuki Vineyard where grapes are planted in a limestone valley, about four kilometres from the coast. The cooling sea breeze has a strong impact on the temperature here, enabling the Chardonnay grapes to retain noticeable freshness (acidity), which helps preserve the intensity of flavour in this wine, for which the grapes were 100% pressed directly to barrel, then treated to a 100% wild ferment and 100% malolactic conversion. This wine has pronounced ripe citrus flavours (think: grapefruit, sweet lemon) and a touch of butterscotch on its lingering, flavoursome finish.


Cellar it… Syrah

Two vintages of Tom Syrah have been produced and both were tasted; the 2013 and 2014. Both are impressive deeply coloured, flavoursome big Syrahs, but my preference was strongly for the 2014, which heralds a stylish change in taste. 

2014 Tom Syrah 

It’s big, bold, black in colour (well, almost; this deep purple wine has colour spades) and its   ripe black fruit flavours, full body and velvety mouthfeel provide the X factor here; it’s a beautiful wine which can evolve positively in a cool dark cellar, for at least up to a decade.


Cellar it… Merlot Cabernet

Three red blends were tasted; the 2007 Tom Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, the 2013 Tom Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot and the latest 2014, which sees the blend change slightly.

2014 Church Road Tom Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon

Most of the grapes in this wine were grown on the Gimblett Vineyard (62%) with the balance grown on the Redstone Vineyard (38%) in the nearby Bridge Pa Triangle area; the cepage (French word for the mix) is similar: Merlot makes up 62% of the wine with the balance being Cabernet Sauvignon. So this is a stylistic change in direction from the former Tom reds, which have mostly been dominant in Cabernet Sauvignon. The result is a red which is more approachable in its youth, softer plummier fruit flavours lead this wine to a firm, full bodied wine, which spent 20 months in 225 litre French oak barriques, of which 74% were new, with the balance being on their second year of use.

This is a lovely drink now but will improve in 4 to 5 years time, mellowing and intensifying in savoury taste. It can age for up to 10 years and, depending on your taste and your willpower, beyond.



Challenging and complex: the 2017 vintage in Hawke’s Bay…

Here is one perspective on vintage 2017 in Hawke’s Bay… More will follow on this site. Watch this space…

Two words beginning with ‘c’ sum up vintage 2017 in Hawke’s Bay for Bordeaux oenologist Ludwig Vanneron, consultant to the small Waimarama Estate: challenging and complex. I asked him to share his thoughts on how he responds to heavy rainfall pre-harvest on late ripening  grapes. Here are his thoughts.

“When it’s rainy in Bordeaux, we say it is better to pick grapes more ripe under rain than green (and dry) with sunshine.

“There are actually several factors to take into account: dilution (water makes berries bigger), tightness (compacité) of bunches, risk of burst, split, and rot infection (where it starts, and how fast it grows depending on the vineyard, the plots and the grapes).

“The look,  analysis and weight of grapes can give an idea of the dilution effect. If we must pick green grapes like unripe Cabernet (high pyrazine content), fining, oaky adjuncts and micro-oxygenation could improve the wines.

“Bursting effects and rot infection require high attention and care. Everyday we have to take a look in the vineyard and check how it grows. If it is located only in some bunches, which are very tight, and weather is forecast to improve, then a healthy sort by hand before picking can be done. Then, another problem is the cost, but making good or very good wines in bad conditions is always more expensive.

“Rot infection requires a change to enological practices by taking care of aeration and oxidation effects, due to laccase compounds produced by botrytis. If there is lots of oxidation, mostly from the beginning, as soon as must is free out of the berries, then laccase starts and we lose aromas and colour degradation is more sensitive as well. So adjunctions of specific tanins (proanthocyanidic) are required, and fermentation needs to start quickly by putting yeasts straight into the vats. The goal is to fix the colour, as much as possible, by using other types of tannins and adapted winemaking practices.”

What is the biggest challenge in a rainy vintage when you would like to leave grapes hanging on the vines for longer?

“Our only goal is to make the best wine we can from the best grapes possible. The first point to consider is the work in the vineyard and how the vines were managed during the growing season to maximise healthy ripe grapes.

“Among the keys are: well timed pruning, the spread of bunches from one vine to the next, the removal of young shoots (pampres, in French), the quality of tucking on trellising system (main shoots have to be straight up, no crossing), removal of lateral shoots, leaf plucking, crop thinning, applications of specific products (natural defense stimulators, among others) and timing along with quality of sprays for treatments.

“The type of grapes is important to consider. If red, they may be able to  wait, in the anticipation they could become more ripe, even if the risk of rot infection is high (natural tanins in the berries act like a fence against botrytis attack). For white grapes, we must have a different approach as we are looking after aromas first but rot produces laccase and early fining of must (at settling) helps to create clean juice early, which is a good start for keeping varietal flavours.

“To leave grapes hanging on the vines for longer, the aim is to reduce green characters. Pyrazines are at a higher level during veraison, then they decrease week after week during maturation. Merlot is easier as pyrazines are not as high as they are in Cabernet, and the maturation time required to get ripe grapes is approximately 45-50 days after the colour change of veraison whereas Cabernet Sauvignon’s is 60-70 days. This makes it more difficult to get lower amounts of pyrazines in berries.

How can you eliminate green pyrazine flavours from Cabernet?

“One way is to remove the first leaf in front of the bunches at an early stage (2 to 3mm berry size). Then by doing this practice, you “cut” the factory of pyrazine production, and the level at the veraison time is lower, making easier to reach ripening at the end because we start with lower quantities of pyrazine, so we can expect lower amounts when the grapes are ripe.”

What are the key differences in the winemaking process for Cabernet grapes harvested earlier than ideal?

“The risks are pyrazine and green flavours, including green and harsh tannins. Specific fining like PVPP, the use of micro-oxigenation, combined with external tannins adjuncts (toasted oak chips) and adapted enological practices during the winemaking roadmap will make the wines taste better.”

Will this impact on pruning and crop levels for next year?

“No. Each vintage is different and has its own characteristics. Frost or hail are much more annoying for the years that follow, compared to rain.”

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